Rethinking Outdated Travel Media Strategies

Travel and tourism marketers find it’s no longer practical to give mass media the highest priority in integrated marketing communications programs. It’s time to rethink outdated media strategies and leverage ‘owned’ media first, for more effective communications, greater consumer engagement and a higher return on investment. This Wanderlust Report examines the trends that have reshaped the media environment and the opportunities that new media channels present.

Destination marketers must evolve their communication strategies

Sixty years ago, the travel and tourism advertising model was relatively simple: Come up with a single creative idea and send it to as many people as possible, as efficiently as possible. It was all about broadcasting – spending a lot of money to get a few ideas to a lot of people – and eliciting enough response to justify your investment. The metrics were reach, frequency and gross impressions; a simple numbers game that relied on efficiency to deliver visitors to their destinations, resorts and attractions.

Of course, sixty years ago media selection was simpler. The small number of choices made it simpler. Even speaking to consumers was simpler (compared to the sophisticated, advertising-savvy audience of today). But it’s a different world now, and in the increasingly complex media realm of the 21st century, the old way simply doesn’t work anymore.

Fast forward to the present state of the media

Today, media fragmentation and changing consumer habits are forcing us to rethink how we allocate our marketing dollars. It’s imperative that DMOs, CVBs, resorts and attractions that once relied on paid mass media exposure and the efficiency of their buy figure out the best way of leveraging ‘owned’ media to communicate more effectively. Instead of starting with high-priced, low-return campaigns in paid, interruptive mass media, we’re investing in the destination experience first and exploring lower-cost, higher return engagements with small, segmented audiences that are open to dialog.

Just as the media strategy must change, messaging strategies must also adapt. No longer is it as easy as having one brand position - one message - one audience. Now destinations must have one brand position that can be expressed in many relevant ways that are appropriate to a variety of smaller, diverse audiences.

Repositioning Your Destination: Ten Questions to Ask

As you consider where you want to take your business in the future, consider your past, your present and your competitive space. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Where did our current positioning originate?
  2. Is our current positioning still accurate?
  3. What do our customers think about our brand?
  4. How well do we know our customers?
  5. Do we know why non-customers aren't customers?
  6. How do our competitors position their businesses?
  7. How are we different and the same as our competition?
  8. What promise of value can we offer our customers?
  9. Can we deliver on that promise consistently?
  10. How do we need to change our position to reflect this?

Get on the road to recovery

Despite countless distractions and economic challenges, people still find time to get away. To make emotional connections with these consumers, you must set your brand apart from the competition. The repositioning process described here will help you find your place within the category and make your destination more desirable to your target market. It may be as simple as updating your messaging or as extreme as a complete relaunch – but the repositioning process makes all of your marketing efforts more effective, and can become the foundation of your destination’s recovery.

Additional Reading:

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A Foundation for Successful Marketing and ROI

Sometimes it’s hard for travel marketers to think of the value of their position in concrete ways. Similarly, it’s very hard for management to justify staff resources and out of pocket expenses for positioning work if they can’t find immediate ways to demonstrate some semblance of an ROI. This is especially true when the destination is lagging behind sales projections or flat out losing money. But if you look at your position as the foundation of your marketing communications, just about every marketing initiative gets a bump in ROI.

A benchmark for communications and performance

When you dig down deep and get to the truth about your position, you’re really getting in touch with the soul of your destination. If you use that learning to position your business, then lots of other things fall into place. Just think of front line staff: with an ethos to follow, they can really live the new position and use it to create great consumer experiences. That may sound like an ethereal idea, but it’s very real, and it’s measurable.

Destinations that practice this consistently score better than the competitive set for customer satisfaction, advocacy (or willingness to recommend), and loyalty. Net promoter scores invariably rise. The correlation between these marketing metrics and visitor days (read: profits) is strong. There are other good examples of how a strong position can make other marketing initiatives easier, and return more value.

A focus for internet marketing

With media budgets on the chopping block, the web is the one sector in the destination advertising industry that has seen steady growth in recent years. Without a clear position in place, basic web marketing tasks like SEO and SEM are painful, and likely, aimless. Sure, your web traffic is trackable, but without a position, it’s difficult to create effective paid and organic keyword campaigns that translate into conversions. A unique and deliverable position helps focus your long term strategies for improving organic rankings, attracting more relevant visitors, and converting at higher rates.

A platform for great creative

Perhaps the most compelling example of positioning’s effect on marketing comes in your resort’s advertising and marketing communications. Consistently good creative is the love child of great positioning and creative talent. Agencies whose clients have established their competitive line in the sand, grounded in truthful insight, can deliver great work over and over. Effective positioning makes creative more powerful from the outset, and makes it easier to stay on track over time. Great advertising is just the advantage an underperforming destination needs to fuel a comeback.

Four Dimensions to Repositioning Your Destination

There are four dimensions that need to be examined in order to uncover key insights that lead to a believable, differentiating, relevant, memorable and deliverable promise of value for any destination. They are: the state of the brand; the competitive environment; the customer; and the current marketing plan.

  1. Examine your current position
    Take some time for an introspective look at your current position in the market. Where did your destination’s current position originate? What does it continue to offer of value? How has it been represented in the past? What is the current perception in the mind of the consumer, and what is its current market position? How about the people behind it? What are they thinking and saying? How do they act? What do they really believe? What do they really think of the travelers that find their way here? Tell the truth because honesty will bring you much closer to practical, usable insights.
  2. Review the competitive environment
    Who is competing with you for the travelers you want to attract? What are they saying? How is it different, and how is it the same as what your destination has to offer? Is it the truth? What else competes for your consumers’ attention or leisure resources? Have you considered competition outside of your category or industry? Pull together every marketing piece you can find from your competitors. Reverse-engineer their advertising and marketing communications to see where they are focusing, how they are positioning their destinations. After you’ve completed this, you should have a good idea of where there is saturation in the competitive idea space and where there is opportunity for a fresh, differentiated position.
  3. Get to know your best customers
    Take the time to get inside the heads of travelers who seek out destinations in your competitive space. What are their current perceptions of the category as a whole, your destination and those you compete with? What keeps them up at night? What interests them, makes them happy, and can improve their quality of life? Focusing on the relationship-building drivers, ladder up the list of attributes to get to the place that resonates with consumers emotionally. What are they willing to believe about your place that is somehow different and more desirable than the competition? And where do you reach them and engage them in meaningful ways?
  4. Analyze your current destination marketing plan
    Where have you been applying your resources and spending your money? Is it in the same places you always have, or has your plan evolved with the times? Do you have tactics for both creating awareness and engagement? What percentage of your budget has moved online? How are you building presence in feeder markets? If your budget has been reduced, did you cut across the board or build a completely new plan that gets you the most for your money?

Why Positioning Matters for Resorts and Attractions

According to Entrepreneur®, positioning is “how you differentiate your offering from that of your
competitors and then determine which market niche to fill.” Why is it important? Because positioning creates differentiation, which is vital to driving preference, market share and bottom line growth. The key to asuccessful position is determining what you have that is:

  • Ownable (unique to your destination that no other has claimed or can steal from you)
  • Relevant (of interest, given the current and future market)
  • Desirable (attractive and compelling to your prospects)
  • Deliverable (the promise of value that you can consistently deliver)

It’s not a miracle cure, but a strong position can support decision making, customer
service policies, communications strategies, and provide a foundation for successful
marketing to attract visitors and regain market share.

Start with an inventory of your assets and liabilities

The process of repositioning an underperforming destination, resort or attraction
begins by taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Make a list of your

  • Assets (what to keep): all the good things you can build on
  • Liabilities (what to lose): anything that detracts from your success
  • Opportunities (where to grow): what to pursue, expand or add on

Assets and liabilities aren’t always what you would expect. Physical property, buildings, destination features, even natural features and climate can be assets, but they can be liabilities also. And don’t forget to consider intangibles like goodwill, public perception, customer experiences and past press coverage (good and bad). All of these things could be assets, liabilities OR opportunities.

For those on the inside of the business, it’s especially important to try to look at your destination from the consumer’s perspective. Many marketers take stock of the features or attributes they have to sell or promote, and attempt to create a position around them. The problem is that many of those attributes (a ski lift, a beach, a restaurant, activities for kids) aren’t all that unique. A lot of places have beaches, don’t they? Features and attributes, while important to your destination’s offerings, are not meaningful points of differentiation.

With a clear picture of your destination’s plusses and minuses, and an understanding of what you’re really up against, you can begin the repositioning process.

User generated content will challenge your intestinal fortitude

Some of it will be pretty good.


But most of it will be awful.

Some of it will be controversial.

Maybe even downright offensive.

Make peace with it and leave it alone. If you try to remove it, you will likely do more damage than if you just ignore it.

Social media costs more than you think

According to Chris Chambers, no new marketing dollars were allocated for The Best Job In The World campaign. They funded the entire program by diverting the bulk of their annual marketing budget to the six week campaign and convincing their various partners to pool funds slated for other, more traditional tactics. Politics aside, this was a big leap of faith for a lot of people accustomed with doing things the same old way.

While the total budget for the campaign has not been disclosed, the advertising portion alone has been estimated to be $1.2 Million. Add to that the cost of developing all of the creative, the website, the social media channels, the public relations effort and paying the winning applicant, and you have a pretty significant spend for a small tourism bureau like Queensland.

It takes more effort than you can imagine

In terms of human effort, Chris said they totally underestimated the time required to pull the social media effort off. In addition to the 34,680 videos, they also received over 20,000 emails. On their Facebook page, fans would respond to questions, but they had to moderate by actively listening and correcting mistakes and misinformation. And someone had to watch those 34,680 job application videos to pick the winner.

The Tourism Queensland folks were totally overwhelmed and had to work crazy hours. They had prepared 3-4 people to watch 4,000 videos in a few half day sessions. It turned out they needed 35-40 people to vet the final 9,000 videos over the last weekend. In a panic, they enlisted volunteers from the community to help. Their advertising agency helped out, too.

Repositioning an Underperforming Destination

Turning around a destination to once again attract profitable customers often requires a reevaluation of its competitive positioning. This issue of the Wanderlust Report presents a method for addressing positioning problems of underperforming and distressed destinations.

A serious condition has become critical

The symptoms are telling: lack of clear direction, an air of ambivalence, disengaged staff,  complacency toward the customer, eroding consumer satisfaction. The results are undeniable: fewer visitors, shorter stays, tighter margins, lower profits. A once thriving and highly desirable destination, resort or attraction is in decline – or worse – it’s teetering on the edge.

There are many reasons why underperforming and distressed destinations get that way. The needs of the market shift. New competitors emerge. Unchecked mismanagement, invisible in good times, can take its toll when a recession rears its ugly head. An old marketing plan that once delivered ROI no longer reaches the right audience, at the right times, with the right message.

As things continue to get worse, budgets are slashed. Staff is released. Everyone left is asked to do more with less, which can take the financial pressure off in the short term. But if something isn’t done to reverse the trend...

Social Media Best Practices in Destination Marketing

Don’t try to make it viral

Think big, but keep in mind that very few social media campaigns break through. If you are lucky enough to get on the wave, ride it for all it’s worth. Six weeks is a short timespan, and when its over, its hard to maintain that kind of momentum without the money to pay for it.


Planning and execution are key

The Best Job In The World campaign was highly orchestrated. Timing was critical. It was a tough time for the tourism industry and they had planned phases to draw out results. It was important to launch before the Obama inauguration to avoid getting lost, but take advantage of the lift from Australia: The Movie. They had to alter their plans on the fly whenever opportunities arose.

Set goals so you can measure success

The Queensland marketing team struggled with setting goals for the campaign as they had never undertaken anything like it and there were no benchmark metrics to consider (one of the biggest challenges with social media). They were spending a lot of money and expending significant effort, so they needed to define what would constitute success. Their constituents and partners would demand it.

They finally settled on a goal of 400,000 total visitors to The Best Job In The World website (as of the end of October, they had exceeded 8.4 million visitors from every country in the world), with 1-3% applying for the job (2.8% actually applied).

Don’t try to fake it: you’ll get caught

At the start of The Best Job In The World campaign, Cummins Nitro seeded the website with a video story about a woman who tattooed an advertisement for the Great Barrier Reef on her arm to win the job. According to Chris, their intention was to give an example of the kinds of videos they were looking for from applicants.

Unfortunately, when word got out, the social networks took over and the outcry, “FAKE!! -The Best Job In The World FRAUD EXPOSED!!” and the accompanying anger went around the world in no time. It took several days of damage control (using additional unplanned resources) and a public apology to eventually quell the storm.

There you have it

Queensland successfully used social media as a part of an integrated destination marketing campaign to drive traffic to their website (8.4 million site visitors, from every country) and visitors to their destination (Australia tourism down, but Queensland tourism up 20%). We've got our first ROI story from other sources and the start of our social media integration best practices list for destination marketers.

Queensland: Social Media or Integrated Campaign?

Truth be told, while Tourism Queensland's The Best Job In The World relied heavily on social media, it was an integrated marketing campaign that could not have succeeded without a website, the heavy use of advertising, public relations and a healthy dose of crisis management.

It all started with a big idea

Conceived with the help of Queensland’s advertising agency, Cummins Nitro, The Best Job In The World idea was a big one: recruit applicants for a six-month assignment to become a Great Barrier Reef island caretaker, take out the garbage, clean the pool, water the dog and feed the fish.
While the on the job, the successful applicant was also expected to explore the islands and write a weekly blog reporting on his adventures. Compensation included round trip travel from anywhere in the world, room and board, all expenses while in Queensland, and a salary of $8,800 US per month. Total package, $150,000 AUD.

Paid Advertising

While the core of The Best Job In The World campaign was social media-based, it launched as a world-wide drive to web effort using paid classified advertising, online recruitment ads, banner advertising and video.


The want ads pointed interested parties to a website selling the Great Barrier Reef in terms of the benefits of the job - live in one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in the world and definitely on your top ten list of places to vacation. Anyone interested in applying was encouraged to submit a 60 second video explaining why they should get the job.

Public Relations

An aggressive pr push was also mounted. Coverage was widespread, with placements on Oprah, ESPN Sports, in Time magazine, on TechCrunch and SpringWise, and in local news programming around the world. The BBC produced a reality tv-style documentary, following four British applicants as they competed for the job.

Social Media

YouTube was used both for distributing recruitment videos and as the video submission engine on the campaign website, and a branded YouTube channel was created to expose the applicant videos to a much larger audience. This was a particularly effective play as YouTube is the largest social media network in the world. Branded Facebook and Twitter pages were also created to open the campaign up to an even wider social media audience, as well as photos on Flickr.

Using Social Media In Destination Marketing

A couple of years ago, we queried our social media networks (Points of Interest blog followers, Twitter followers, LinkedIn groups and Facebook fans) for ROI stories using social media in destination marketing. We had experienced some initial social media successes, but were looking to build a list of best practices to share with our clients and readers.

Instead of examples touting measurable results, what we received were numerous accounts of the many tactics various destinations, resorts and attractions were using in social media. Everyone was throwing things up on the wall to see what sticked. The few that addressed the topic of ROI either told us it was about “engagement” and not direct results, or offered us anecdotal evidence: “I tweeted a discount weekend rate and landed a booking. It didn’t cost anything but my time.”
Social media experts (to call yourself a social media expert back then, all you had to do was have a Twitter account or Facebook page) were claiming that advertising no longer works, and that the best thing was to stop wasting money advertising altogether and put all faith into social media, regardless of the lack of evidence that this would work. Vail Resorts actually took their advice. For Vail’s sake, let’s hope they didn’t make a huge mistake.

At the time, we were surprised at the apparent lack of interest in measuring real ROI.

Before social media’s rise in popularity, the difference between internet marketing and traditional advertising was the internet’s ability to directly link cause and effect. Then Twitter comes along, and suddenly tracking ROI no longer mattered. Forget about reaching enough people to move the needle (it’s just not scalable: you can’t put enough heads in beds or feet through the turnstile one tweet at a time. Not yet, anyway).

However, while we still firmly believed (and still do) in an integrated marketing strategy including some form of advertising, social media's rising influence could not be ignored. So we kept searching for evidence, anything, that could prove that using social media in destination marketing could help deliver real results and help us begin to build our list of best practices.

At the 2009 PhoCusWright Conference in Orlando, we finally found it.

The Best Job in the World

Chris Chambers, Director of Digital Marketing for Queensland, Australia, presented a fairly detailed case study on his campaign to market the Great Barrier Reef internationally: The Best Job in the World. Before we get into the details of the campaign, let’s start with what we began looking for eight months ago: a social media ROI story with measurable results.

Here’s what Queensland had achieved as of October 31, 2009:

Marketing measures

  • 8.4 million site visitors, from every country

  • 8 minute average time on site

  • 34,680 job applications

  • $390 Million AUD of publicity

Business measures

  • First quarter of current fiscal year
  • Australia tourism down, but Queensland tourism up 20%
  • 50% of Australia trips now include a Queensland component

Pretty impressive results for a social media campaign, nes pas?